Kyushu University Academic Staff Educational and Research Activities Database
Researcher information (To researchers) Need Help? How to update
Ellen E. M. A. Van Goethem Last modified date:2018.01.31

Associate Professor / International Master's Program and Intenattional Doctorate in Japanese Humanities
Department of Philosophy
Faculty of Humanities


Graduate School
Undergraduate School


Academic Degree
Doctor in Oriental Languages and Cultures
Field of Specialization
History of Ancient Japan; History of Ideas
Outline Activities
Ellen Van Goethem's research focuses on the Asuka, Nara, and Heian periods, particularly on the layout of Chinese-style capital cities, on religious and philosophical thought underpinning the construction of these cities, and on inscribed wooden tablets (mokkan). She has published on Japan's ancient capital cities and site divination practices in East Asia. Her current research also touches on the influence of fengshui on contemporary Japanese architecture and the presence of geomantic beliefs and practices in Shinto shrines. She is currently involved in a four-year research project titled “Site Divination Practices in Premodern East Asia” for which she receives funding from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (Kakenhi Grant-in-Aid for Young Scientists (A), project no. 15H05376).
She is the co-chair of the International MA Program (IMAP) and International Doctorate (IDOC) in Japanese Humanities at Kyushu University where she teaches courses in premodern Japanese history, material culture, religion beliefs and practices, and East-West encounters.
Research
Research Interests
  • Research on 19th- and early 20th-century creation of Shinto shrines and rituals
    keyword : Heian shrine, Dazaifu tenmangu shrine, Kashihara jingu, four deities
    2015.05.
  • Research on urban planning in ancient Japan
    keyword : capital city, urbanisation, palace, city
    1999.03.
  • Research on inscribed wooden tablets (ancient Japan)
    keyword : inscribed wooden tablets
    2012.01.
  • Research on "shijin soo", i.e. "correspondence to the four gods"
    keyword : the Sakuteiki, feng shui, geomancy, site divination
    2008.04.
  • Research on the influence of religio-philosophical thought on the establishment of the Nagaoka capital
    keyword : the Nagaoka capital, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, yin yang and Five Phases
    2007.03~2008.03.
  • research on the Nagaoka capital
    keyword : gridiron capital cities, inscribed wooden tablets, Kanmu tenno
    1999.03~2008.04.
Current and Past Project
  • In this project, postdoctoral research DeWitt explores the religious history of Munakata Shrine 宗像大社 in northern Kyushu (which in fact denotes three separate shrines). The project examines a diverse range of factors as windows to understanding how the current tradition of women’s exclusion from Okinoshima 沖ノ島 is deployed and challenged. The results of this work will preserve the important histories of the shrines shed new light on the cultural phenomenon of women’s prohibitions in Japan.
  • Through this research I aim to arrive at a better understanding of ancient site divination practices in East Asia in general and in Japan in particular, differentiating between various divinatory models (for tombs, private residences, cities, military camps, etc.).
  • To trace how the “Four gods” were interpreted in the landscape and how this knowledge spread from the continent to Japan
    To investigate why different interpretations were given to each of the “Four Gods”
    To find an explanation why trees species and numbers are different among various related texts
    To clarify issues related to text transmission
Academic Activities
Books
1. Ellen E. M. A. Van Goethem, Ellen Van Goethem, Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, "Feng Shui Symbolism in Japan: The Four Divine Beasts" in Florian C. Reiter (ed.), Theory and Reality of Feng Shui in Architecture and Landscape Art (Asien- und Afrika-Studien der Humboldt-Universitat zu Berlin) 41, 35-48., 2013.11, This paper presents a discussion of the appearance and context of feng shui symbolism in Japan. Attention is focused on the four divine beasts and their associated symbolism from their initial appearance on the Japanese archipelago until the ninth century and from the mid-nineteenth century until the present day, in an attempt to show how this symbolism became fully assimilated to the point that it appeared in (early) modern times in contexts no longer consciously associated with “original”, foreign practices or was fully absorbed into contexts that are deemed quintessentially Japanese.
By doing so, I would like to argue that the four directional animals preserved their role of "multivalent signs", susceptible to many applications, interpretations, meanings and values. As symbols, visual depictions of underlying concepts, the four divine beasts adapted to (or, better still, were appropriated by) changing circumstances and ideologies to appear in new and entirely different contexts..
2. Ellen Van Goethem, Nagaoka, Japan's Forgotten Capital, Brill, 2008.04.
Reports
1. Ellen Van Goethem, Kyoto: An Urban History of Japan's Premodern Capital (Matthew Stavros), Monumenta Nipponica, 2017.01.
2. Ellen Van Goethem, Heian Japan – Centers and Peripheries (Mikael Adolphson, Edward Kamens and Stacie Matsumoto, eds.), Nachrichten der Gesellschaft für Natur- und Völkerkunde Ostasiens (NOAG) 77: 181-182, 252-4, 2007.09.
3. Ellen Van Goethem, Capital and Countryside in Japan, 300-1180: Japanese Historians Interpreted in English (Joan R. Piggott, ed.), The Journal of Asian Studies 68: 3, 988-90, 2009.07.
Papers
1. Ellen Van Goethem, Of Trees and Beasts: Site Selection in Premodern East Asia, Journal of Asian Humanities at Kyushu University (JAH-Q), 1, 1-7, 2016.03, This paper focuses on a site selection practice called shijin sōō 四神相応(“correspondence to the four deities”) in Japanese sources. The practice is a subcategory within site divination (Ch. fengshui, Jp. fūsui); the latter encompasses practices and beliefs connected to determining ideal sites to construct graves, found cities, build houses, etc. Among the Chinese, Korean, and Japanese sources that describe this specific divinatory practice of “correspondence to the four deities,” several texts provide a practical—and in most cases fairly easily realizable albeit not always sound—solution to remedy any shortcomings in the surrounding topography. According to these sources, lack of auspiciousness due to missing landscape features could be corrected by planting specific species of trees. In a number of cases, the sources even go so far as to specify the actual number of trees to be planted..
2. Ellen E. M. A. Van Goethem, “Feng Shui Symbolism in Japan: The Four Divine Beasts” , Asien- und Afrikastudien der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, 2013.11, This paper presents a discussion of the appearance and context of feng shui symbolism in Japan. Attention is focused on the four divine beasts and their associated symbolism from their initial appearance on the Japanese archipelago until the ninth century and from the mid-nineteenth century until the present day, in an attempt to show how this symbolism became fully assimilated to the point that it appeared in (early) modern times in contexts no longer consciously associated with “original”, foreign practices or was fully absorbed into contexts that are deemed quintessentially Japanese.
By doing so, I would like to argue that the four directional animals preserved their role of “multivalent signs”, susceptible to many applications, interpretations, meanings and values. As symbols, visual depictions of underlying concepts, the four divine beasts adapted to (or, better still, were appropriated by) changing circumstances and ideologies to appear in new and entirely different contexts..
3. Ellen Van Goethem, The Four Divine Beasts -- Asuka Through European Eyes, 国際飛鳥学講演会報告書2012, 25-32, 2012.11, 本論文では、風水思想における景観上での四方四神の表現方法に関する比較研究の結論を紹介する。集合的には、四方四神が異なる名前で知られており、中国では四靈や四獣、日本では四禽や四神と呼ばれる。また、個別には、四獣は、後方(もしくは北方)の玄武、前方(もしくは南方)の朱雀、左方(もしくは東方の)青龍、右方(もしくは西方)の白虎として知られている。
しかしながら、風水に関する現存する最古の記録では、伝説の四獣のそれぞれに対する地形的な特徴は不明瞭なままである。後に、少なくとも二つの共存する風習が、東アジアにおける風水の中で、発達してきたようである。
一つの風習では、自然地形の存在が強調され、四獣は山などの地形として表現された。これに対し、もう一つの風習では、それぞれの四獣について、異なる自然的・人為的な地形的特徴の存在が必要とされている。本論文では、日本で「四神相応」と呼ばれる、後者の風習に注目する。
.
4. Ellen Van Goethem, The Four Directional Animals in East Asia: A Comparative Analysis, Asien- und Afrika-Studien der Humboldt Universitat zu Berlin, 38, 201-216, 2011.11, In this paper , I present some tentative conclusions about the comparative research I have been conducting into the way(s) in which the four creatures that each guard one of the (cardinal) directions are represented in the physical landscape within the practice(s) of geophysical divination.
In China, in Korea, as well as in Japan, these four directional beasts are identified as the Black Turtle-Snake (玄武) of the back/north , the Vermilion Bird (朱雀) of the front/south, the Azure Dragon (青龍) of the left/east, and the White Tiger (白虎) of the right/west. However, the earliest texts on divination remain vague about the specific landscape features corresponding to each of the four mythical animals. In later times, at least two co-existing traditions seem to have developed within the practice of site divination in East Asia. Following one tradition, emphasis lay on the presence of natural features with all four animals represented in the landscape as mountains. Another tradition, however, required the presence of a different natural or man-made landscape feature for each of the four beasts.
This paper focuses on the latter tradition, in Japanese referred to as “shijin sōō 四神相応” (“correspondence to the four deities”). Through an investigation of written sources, this paper will trace the origin and evolution of the observances of shijin sōō, as well as provide a basic analysis of the different textual traditions. Furthermore, this paper will challenge the commonly held view that the practice of shijin sōō was a divination process used to determine the location of capital cities..
5. Ellen Van Goethem, Pleasing the Four Gods: Shijin sōō (四神相応), Site Selection and Site Adaptation, Cultural Crossroads, Proceedings of the 26th International SAHANZ Conference, CD-rom, 2009.07.
6. Ellen Van Goethem, Shijin sōō and the Site Selection Process of Chinese-style Capitals in Japan, Conference proceedings CD of the 4th International Conference on Scientific Feng Shui & Built Environment 2009, Sustainability and Operability, CD-rom, 2009.02.
7. Ellen Van Goethem, The Status of Descendants of the Baekje Kingdom during Emperor Kanmu’s Reign, Korea Journal, 47, 2, 136-159, 2007.07.
8. Ellen Van Goethem, Influence of Chinese Philosophical Thought on the Construction of Nagaokakyō, Japan's Forgotten Capital, International Conference on East Asian Architectural Culture, Kyoto 2006 – Reassessing East Asia in the Light of Urban and Architectural History, II, 435-444, 2006.12.
9. Ellen Van Goethem, Tracing Feng Shui in Ancient Japanese Capital Cities – Case-study: Nagaokakyō, Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Scientific Feng Shui and Built Environment, 2006.10.
10. Ellen Van Goethem, The Construction of the Nagaoka Palace and Capital – Mokkan 木簡 as a Historical Source, Nachrichten der Gesellschaft für Natur- und Völkerkunde Ostasiens (NOAG), 76, 179-180, 143-74, 2006.09.
Presentations
1. Ellen Van Goethem, Heian Jingū: A "Traditional" Shrine in a "Foreign" Guise, 15th European Association for Japanese Studies (EAJS) International Conference, 2017.08, The founding of Heian jingū in 1895 is usually explained in very simple terms; it was established to commemorate the 1100th anniversary of the move to the Heian capital and was, therefore, dedicated to the city's founder, Emperor Kanmu (r.781-806). A closer look at the shrine's founding story reveals a much more complex narrative that illustrates the fits and starts of State Shinto in the first decades of the Meiji period.
As such, this paper touches not only on doctrinal issues such as the deification of past emperors, but also on material aspects such as the Meiji government's creation of a blueprint for newly erected shrines. Moreover, tracing Heian jingū's founding story might help explain how a major imperial shrine (kanpei taisha) can be so replete with Chinese symbolism and why in later years at least one of its designers expressed great disappointment at the end result.
The paper will conclude by arguing that exactly these China-derived elements-and their related beliefs and practices-currently form the core of Heian jingū's self-portrayal and play a crucial role in its continued popularity..
2. Ellen Van Goethem, Guardians of Kyoto: Shinto Shrines as Manifestations of the Directional Deities, Association for Asian Studies, 2017.03, This paper traces the history of five Kyoto shrines to explain how and why they came to be identified with the directional deities. Emphasis is placed on Heian Jingu, the youngest, yet most important shrine in the configuration. Constructed in the late nineteenth century to commemorate the 1100th anniversary of Kyoto’s founding, the shrine itself is replete with references to the four guardian deities of the cardinal directions and therefore also provides an interesting case study of the establishment of a shrine of national importance in the climate of shinbutsu bunri and the process in which the entire shrine set-up, from the actual buildings and decorations to the rituals and the shrine priests, was created..
3. VAN GOETHEM ELLEN, Animated City: Life Force, Guardians, and Contemporary Architecture in Kyoto, Invisible Empire: Spirits and Animism in Contemporary Japan, 2017.02, In this presentation I explore the conviction that Kyoto is a city animated by a number of invisible agencies and how this notion has influenced the city’s contemporary architecture. Inspired by the belief that the city was designed and built according to the core principles of site divination (popularly known as fengshui or fūsui), it is generally assumed that Kyoto is vitalized by the invisible flow of qi and protected by the guardians of the four directions. Starting in the 1990s, when a fengshui boom gripped Japan, a number of architectural projects in Kyoto were conceived with explicit reference to fengshui either because of the architect’s personal beliefs, a particular client’s request, or to convince the general public of the project’s suitability to the city..
4. VAN GOETHEM ELLEN, From Scale Model to Shrine: The Creation of Heian Jingū, Invited lecture at the Asian Languages & Cultures Department Department, UCLA, 2017.03, The founding of Heian jingū in 1895 is usually explained in very simple terms; it was established to commemorate the 1100th anniversary of the move to the Heian capital and was, therefore, dedicated to the city’s founder, Kanmu Tennō (r.781–806). A closer look at the shrine’s founding story reveals a much more complex narrative that involves not only doctrinal issues such as the deification of past emperors, but also material aspects such as the Meiji government’s creation of a blueprint for newly erected shrines. Moreover, it explains why a major imperial shrine (kanpei taisha) can be so replete with Chinese symbolism..
5. Ellen E. M. A. Van Goethem, Heian Jingu: Civic Shrine, Exhibition Pavilion, Imperial Shrine?, Workshop: "The Creation of a National Culture in Japan’s Modern Period: Architecture, Art, and Place", 2016.12, The founding of Heian jingū in 1895 is usually explained in very simple terms; it was established to commemorate the 1100th anniversary of the move to the Heian capital and was, therefore, dedicated to the city’s founder, Kanmu Tennō (r.781–806). A closer look at the shrine’s founding story reveals a much more complex narrative that might help explain how a major imperial shrine (kanpeitaisha) can be so replete with Chinese symbolism and why in later years one of its designers expressed great disappointment at the end result..
6. Ellen E. M. A. Van Goethem, Buildings on the Move: Temple Construction and Capital Relocation in Ancient Japan, MOVING OBJECTS: AUTHORSHIP, OWNERSHIP AND EXPERIENCE IN BUDDHIST MATERIAL CULTURE, 2016.04, [URL], This paper examines the interrelationships between temple construction and the establishment of Japan’s Chinese-style capitals between the 7th and 9th centuries..
7. Ellen E. M. A. Van Goethem, Of Trees and Beasts: Site Selection in Premodern East Asia, The Third Conference of East Asian Environmental History (EAEH), 2015.10, [URL], Since ancient times people in the Chinese cultural sphere have been looking for ideal sites to construct graves, found cities, build houses, etc. These practices are generally grouped under the broad label of telluric divination or geomancy (Chn. 風水 fengshui). This paper focuses on a subcategory within telluric divination; it concentrates on a practice that received its own label—shijin sōō 四神相応 or “correspondence to the four deities”—in Japan but is in no way unique to the country.
In China, Korea, and Japan, a number of written sources dating from the 8th through 19th centuries describe the ideal siting conditions of private residences. What these sources have in common is that a residence needs to be surrounded by specific landscape features, either natural or manmade (a river, an irrigated plain, a road, and a hill), each corresponding to one of the four directional deities (the Azure Dragon, the Vermilion Bird, the White Tiger, and the Black Turtle-Snake).
Inhabitants of a site that corresponds to these topographical requirements are promised good health and a long life, a successful career, and numerous descendants. Interestingly, several of the written sources describing these ideal siting conditions also provide a practical—and in most cases realizable—solution to remedy any shortcomings in the surrounding topography in the form of substituting missing landscape features with specific (numbers of) trees.
This paper will thus compare and contrast a number of these sources to address the underlying philosophy of substituting landscape features for trees as well as issues of knowledge transfer..
8. Ellen E. M. A. Van Goethem, Foreign Beliefs in ‘Native’ Settings: Fengshui Elements in Shinto Shrines, ICAS (International Convention of Asia Scholars), 2015.07, The earliest evidence of the presence of fengshui-related practices on the Japanese archipelago dates back to nearly two millennia ago. At that time, there was no unified, systematized, or institutionalized indigenous religion. The loose set of native rituals and practices performed at the time is classified by scholars as kami worship and over the centuries that followed it was receptive of a wide variety of rites, symbolism, and beliefs belonging to imported religious traditions including Buddhism, Confucianism, and Christianity.
This process of absorption did not come to a halt when kami-related worship was systematized into what we now call Shinto. Close inspection of Shinto prayers and rites conducted at shrines reveals the pervasive influence of imported elements in this so-called native religion. To illustrate this point, this paper focuses on the famous Daizaifu Tenmangu shrine in Kyushu. Dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane (845-903), who was deified after his death and is still worshipped as a paragon of refinement and scholarship, the shrine draws thousands of visitors and has been designated an Important Cultural Property. The shrine is thus portrayed as a symbol of Japan(eseness) and its native religion. Scratching the surface, however, it quickly becomes clear that the core of the shrine's most important ritual, the rice-planting festival, and the norito (ritual prayers) recited at the Dazaifu Tenmangu shrine are replete with fengshui-related references..
9. Ellen E. M. A. Van Goethem, Fengshui Protection: The Four Mythical Beasts and Shinto Shrines, アジア伝統科学国際ワークショップ2015  古今の宇宙観, 2015.06, This paper presents a discussion of the appearance and context of fengshui-related symbolism in Japan. Attention will be focused on the four directional deities (四神) and their associated symbolism from their initial appearance on the Japanese archipelago until the present day, in an attempt to show how this symbolism became fully assimilated to the point that it appeared in (early) modern times in contexts no longer consciously associated with their “original” practices or was fully absorbed into contexts that are deemed quintessentially Japanese. To illustrate this point, this paper will present a case-study of six well-known Shinto shrines, Dazaifu Tenmangū in Dazaifu, and Heian Jingū, Kamigamo jinja, Matsuo taisha, Yasaka jinja, and Jōnangū in Kyoto.
By doing so, this paper will argue that the four directional animals preserved their ancient Chinese role of “multivalent signs”, susceptible to many applications, interpretations, meanings and values. As symbols, i.e. visual depictions of underlying concepts, the four divine beasts adapted to (or, better still, were appropriated by) changing circumstances and new ideas to appear in new and entirely different contexts..
10. Ellen E. M. A. Van Goethem, Adopting and adapting the paradigm: Gridiron cities in Japan, International Institute for Asian Studies, 2013.11, [URL], Using the example of capital cities, this paper will address the issue of cultural borrowing and the subsequent modification of imported ideas in ancient Japan. It is common knowledge that during the early centuries CE the ruling elites of the Japanese archipelago were heavily dependent on Chinese archetypes and prototypes for the formation of the early state.
Unquestionably, one of the most visually striking and impressive examples of this process of cultural borrowing was the establishment of large, semi‐permanent urban centers. Laid out on a gridiron pattern with a clearly delineated space reserved for the ruler’s residential quarters as well as for the apparatus of government—itself also mostly newly introduced—these cities symbolized the power of the ruler and the political, social and cultural center of the recently emerged state.
In order to explain how the Chinese archetype was adopted and adapted, this paper will briefly trace the evolution of gridiron cities. Then it will address the process of selecting a suitable site for the establishment of these cities. This process is commonly addressed only briefly by referring to lofty ideals and/or to esoteric practices but has received little scholarly attention so far..
11. Ellen E. M. A. Van Goethem, Written, Used, Discarded, and Unintentionally Preserved: Writings on Wood in Ancient Japan, Hamburg University, Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures, 2013.11, This paper provides an overview of the discovery, typology, and practical use of kodai mokkan, inscribed wooden tablets that were produced in large numbers between the seventh and tenth centuries in Japan.
While a small number of these mokkan had been carefully preserved for centuries in imperial repositories, the vast majority of the tablets was not discovered until recent decades. Excavations of sites mostly related to local or central government facilities, elite residences, and temples have yielded hundreds of thousands of inscribed tablets or shavings (kezurikuzu).
As a result, our understanding of various aspects of government, economy, and society in ancient Japan has changed and we have been allowed glimpses of the practical execution of government regulations and of daily life. Mokkan have also contributed to a better understanding of archaeological remains as they occasionally allow for precise dating and identification..
12. Ellen E. M. A. Van Goethem, “Heiankyō: Guardian Deities and Geomantic Theories”, 2013.09, This paper discusses the various geomantic theories that circulate to explain why the site of Heian was chosen by Kanmu tenno for the construction of the new capital. It challenges the commonly-accepted notion that shijin soo as described in "Sakuteiki" (in the east, the direction of the Azure Dragon, there should be flowing water; in the west, the direction of the White Tiger, there should be a broad road; in the south, the direction of the Vermilion Bird, there should be a pond; and in the north, the direction of the Black Turtle-Snake, there should be a mountain) was decisive in this matter..
13. Comparative Research on the Four Divine Beasts in East Asia: Capitals, Residences, and Trees.
14. The Four Divine Beasts: Asuka as Seen Through European Eyes.
15. In this presentation, a number of inscribed wooden tablets (mokkan 木簡) are presented to illustrate how their discovery has deepened our understanding of specific aspects of the Nagaokakyo era. Prior to the discovery of these wooden tablets, only a limited number of written sources contemporaneous to the Nagaoka capital’s existence were available to scholars. In the four decades since the discovery of the first inscribed wooden tablet in the remains of the former capital, this vast body of written evidence has also proved to be a valuable addition to the archaeological record of the Nagaoka capital..
16. , [URL].
Membership in Academic Society
  • Center for International Japanese Studies, Hosei University
Educational
Educational Activities
In the School of Letters, I teach courses related to Japanese history and history of ideas/religion (with a focus on premodern Japan) as well as courses on East-West interaction.
In the International Master's Program (IMAP) and Doctorate (IDOC) in Japanese Humanities, I teach graduate seminars that offer an in-depth examination of specific aspects of ancient Japanese history or ritual practice. Other courses aim to familiarize the students with source materials available for the study of ancient Japan, including documents, inscriptions, architecture, landscapes, pottery, and other archaeological finds. While the main focus in these courses is on developments within what is now Japan, I occasionally touch on relevant developments in China or on the Korean peninsula.
In addition, I co-teach a week-long fieldwork course during which the students visit major historical and archaeological sites (mainly in the Kansai area) and a yearlong course of one- or two-day excursions to cultural, historical, and archaeological sites in the Kyushu area.
Finally, during the Research, Readings, and Methods courses and the Master’s Thesis Guidance sessions, I introduce students to advanced research methodologies, additional source materials, and help them to develop their scholarly writing and presentation skills.
Other Educational Activities
  • 2016.01, Guest lecture in EACS4A: East Asian Traditions: Pre-Modern at the University of California, Santa Barbara (Course instructors: Fabio Rambelli and Xiaorong Li, undergraduate, enrolment 244 students).